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Old Sunday 11th December 2016, 14:18   #1
Troubador
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Kowa Genesis 8x33: Troubador's Review

To most people, Kowa means spotting scopes and this is hardly surprising since they have made them since 1952 and introduced the much-respected TSN scopes in 1984 with the TSN3 & 4 arriving a couple of years later, equipped with fluorite crystal lenses for the control of chromatic aberration. Kowa has remained a force to be reckoned with in the world of spotting scopes but a few quick looks through Kowa’s binoculars at the last couple of UK Bird Fairs were sufficiently intriguing to prompt me to want a longer look at them. Kowa’s Genesis XD-33 8x33 was introduced in 2009 and is a neatly styled model equipped with Schmidt-Pechan prisms that are phase- and dielectric-coated and has what Kowa calls two XD lenses in each optical tube. These are extra-low dispersion glass elements in the 3-element objective to control chromatic aberration, but not all low dispersion glasses are created equal so it will be interesting to see how they perform. A 5-element eyepiece completes the component line-up.

This model has a very competitive specification with a field of view of 140m (at 1,000m) or 420ft (at 1,000yds) and a closest focus of 1.5m or 4.9ft. But which models is it competing against? In the UK it is listed at 952 but occasionally there are special promotion prices (there are still some units being offered by dealers at 498 or 549), so it is worthwhile checking Kowa prices from time to time, including right now for Christmas 2016 offers. If we take the list price of 952 and a band of 200 each side of this and look for other models priced within this bracket we don’t find many competitors at all. In fact I only came up with Meopta’s B1 MeoStar 8x32 at 749 and Swarovski’s CL Companion 8x30 at 775. Zeiss’s Conquest HD 8x32 for example sits below this price level at around 590. Ignoring Kowa’s occasional special price deals, this model seems to have found itself a price-niche in the UK market. It is a similar story In the States where it is being offered by dealers at around $1160, and looking for competitors priced within a band $250 each side of this we find the same two models as in the UK, with the Meopta at $850 and the Swarovski at $1029, although you might still find examples of the discontinued Nikon Premier 8x32 at $1200.

As usual we will take a look at the unit in the hand first. Subjectively, I think it is a very handsome instrument with a huge amount of visual appeal, but how does it measure up? At 133mm (5.1”) high it is taller than the Meopta B1 MeoStar 8x32 (123mm / 4.84”) or Swaro CL 8x30 (119mm / 4.7”) and more or less the same as the Zeiss Conquest HD 8x32 (132mm / 5.2”) but a little shorter than Swaro’s EL 8x32 (138mm / 5.3). At 590g (20.8ozs) it is usefully lighter than Zeiss’s Conquest (630g / 22.2ozs), about the same as the Meopta (598g / 21.09ozs) and heavier than Swaro’s CL (500g / 17.6ozs). To put all of these in context Leica’s Ultravid HD+ 8x32 is 116mm (4.57”) long and weighs 535g (18.9ozs) and Zeiss’s FL 8x32 measures 117mm (4.61mm) and weighs 550g (19.4ozs).

It feels balanced in the hand, the textured armour offering good grip even in the wet with cold hands, and the wide, shallow depressions in the armour on the back of the tubes do not get in the way or force you to adopt any particular grip but do give your thumbs a sense of their position. The dioptre adjuster is by a locking collar on the right-hand tube and is easy to use and effective. The eyecups offer 4 positions, are secure in all of them and feel nicely made with a medium-soft texture where your eyes or spectacles rest. In fact they may well be the best-feeling eyecups I have ever encountered and I had no problems at all with the 15mm eye relief either with my spectacles or viewing with the naked eye.

The neck strap is not as successful as it is not tailored to lie flat on your upper shoulders but is of the old-fashioned design that hangs from the back of your neck. This is not much of an issue when wearing a jacket with a high collar or hood but personally I find it uncomfortable when wearing just a shirt, T-shirt or sweater. Moreover this neck strap has to double as the shoulder strap when the bins are in their carrying case, and while this means stuffing your bins into the case and dragging them out again later is a much less fussy business without having to fold and unfold the neck strap, I have always thought this unsatisfactory, as the length you need for a neck strap is quite different from that required for a shoulder strap. Moreover the case doesn’t have any strap loops so you can’t even fit an aftermarket shoulder strap. By the way, the case itself is quite adequate.

The rain guard has two loops for the neck strap to pass through in the usual way but the right-hand side one is split, presumably to enable it to be quickly detached on that side. Trouble is, the deep cups that provide excellent protection to the eyepieces grip the eyecups rather tenaciously and as you pull harder to lift the rain guard up the split loop always detaches from the strap. This matters to me because I am one of those folks that likes the rain guard to be secured on both straps, but this will not be of any concern to the many, like my wife, who only attach it to the left-hand strap. I would prefer a more generous diameter to the rain guard cups so that they don’t grip the eyecups so much thus allowing a faster on and off action when caught out in heavy rain, but after-market replacements are available so it is no big deal. One plus point is that it works just fine even when closed down to the minimum IPD which is not something that every Zeiss rain-guard achieves. The objective covers attach by way of rubber rings which keep them secure and without them dangling around like those attached by a tether which can result in them tangling on thorny bushes or barbed-wire fences.

The focus wheel is unusual as it is metal, probably aluminium. Some reviews have pronounced that it is plastic but a friend tested one with a red-hot needle and believe me, its metal. It not only looks good, feels great and works well with gloves, the knurled surface is also reminiscent of the feel of the volume and tone knobs on my Fender Telecaster. You’re not impressed by this last point? OK, getting down to serious stuff, the focus action is a peach. Smooth and fluid, with just the right amount of resistance and with equal effort required in both directions, it is just superb. If mid-price models such as this, the Conquest, and the Meopta MeoStar get focus-feel so right you have to wonder how it is that the alpha models sometimes trip up over this aspect. The Kowa is fast enough for me but not too fast: from far distant (4km/2.5miles) to a 2.0m/6.6ft focus only takes around 3/4 of a turn. For comparison my Conquest HD 8x32 takes only turn to cover that distance, which for me makes the Conquest more suitable for insect-rich habitats, but the Kowa is a great compromise between the speed and ease of precision required for nature observation . And the icing on the cake is that there is not a trace of slop/slack/free-play. Call it what you will, there is none of it. Excellent.

Control of chromatic aberration is exemplary, almost on a par with Zeiss FL, which means for all practical purposes you can forget about it.

I found panning to be quite free from rolling ball despite it being reported by some, but I seem to be one of those relatively unaffected by RB so those who suffer from it should check for this.

When reviewing the Kowa’s bigger 44mm brother, Holger noted that it rendered distant power lines not only finely and clearly but also in a definite black, indicating exceptional contrast and I had a similar experience with this model. The plain grey-looking flanks of a male Mallard are actually covered in fine vermiculations and my goodness the Kowa reproduced those superbly with the excellent contrast giving great definition to the fine markings. This was confirmed by observing a small white feather, floating down the river some distance away with the finest of vanes clearly delineated against the dark water behind and without a trace of chromatic aberration.

It was a moderately cloudy day when I was watching the Mallard but the clouds weren’t too heavy and plenty of light penetrated through although there was no direct sunlight. As I watched, the male Mallard turned his head from side to side, watching me and the nearby females and as he did this his head plumage caught the light and turned from deep green to a shimmering purple/blue. It was such a pleasure to watch this happen and to see the details of his plumage that for some minutes I was just lost in the enjoyment of the moment. A few minutes later I spied a Dipper on a rock on the opposite side of the river. The Kowa easily captured the delicate pattern on its mantle and the subtle plumage tones that shift from chestnut to brown while the white throat was rendered immaculately. In fact the Kowa’s colour rendition was excellent and I could not discover any undue emphasis of either red, green, yellow or blue.

Several days later I was viewing birds on nearby feeders and Grey Squirrels and Brown Rats running around underneath cleaning up food spillages. Watching the more distant rats and squirrels under shifting winter light I was struck by the apparent sharpness of their whiskers, clearly aided by the excellent contrast I mentioned earlier and which I would say is a little better than my Conquest HD 8x32, although I found the Conquest to be noticeably brighter. By way of illustrating how binoculars are such finely balanced compromises let me tell you about a different site I visited, another river with a fine selection of gulls, geese, ducks and rails. Due to the presence of many willow trees and an islet, birds were making brief appearances in my viewing area and this put a premium on speed of target acquisition and focusing. It was fascinating to pit the speed of the focus action of the Conquest (which achieved a faster coarse-focus view) against the extra contrast of the Kowa (which speeded up achieving that final fine focus). In the end it was a draw between the two.

One thing I noticed was that in special circumstances the Kowa’s extra contrast and less bright view can put it at a disadvantage. There was a large area of dark water in which there were several large stones creating turbulence that caught the sunlight filtering through the thin cloud. The Kowa rendered this area as monochrome with dark velvety water and bright white sparkling turbulence which was a delight to look at. However, through the brighter Conquest the turbulence sparkled a little more and the water was not so dark, but was more brown than black. Curious, I walked up onto the nearby bridge, and then on the opposite bank, checking out the colour of the water from different angles, and sure enough it actually was rather brown, caused by the spate resulting from the rain we had a couple of days ago.

The Kowa’s sweet spot is wide enough that I had to adopt unnatural viewing angles to examine the extreme peripheral field of view for out-of-sharpness, so to my eyes, for all normal usage, the Kowa is sharp right across the field of view. When viewing from a hide (or blind) facing the sun but partially shaded from it and looking in the direction of the sun (but not directly at it), I found that glare was apparent in the lower half of the field of view which did not appear in my wife’s Leica Ultravids. However this was a rather special circumstance in which I was viewing far closer to the sun than caution would normally allow so again, for normal viewing, this was not an issue.

Summing up, the Kowa Genesis 8x33 has a superb view, great colours and is as sharp as you could wish for, snaps easily into focus thanks to quite superb contrast, and possesses a nicely balanced speed of focus via a creamily smooth focusing wheel. Of the other models I mentioned as the near price competition, the Swarovski CL falls short when it comes to optical performance, I am not familiar with the Nikon Premier, but the Meopta B1 MeoStar and Zeiss Conquest HD are both worthy competitors.

I am sure the Kowa website and dealers can answer most questions but if they can’t you can contact John McIntosh, Kowa UK Sports Optics Sales Manager. He has spent time at both Zeiss and Leica in the past so has an excellent background in sports optics. His contact details are: Email: jmcintosh@kowaoptimed.com & Mobile: 07904 449817.

On the basis of this model it is a puzzle why Kowa does not have as good a reputation for binoculars as they do for spotting scopes, since this model is certainly deserving of high respect and a wider audience.

Lee
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Old Sunday 11th December 2016, 15:22   #2
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WOW.... GREAT REVIEW!!!!!!!
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Old Sunday 11th December 2016, 15:49   #3
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Excellent reviews i totally agree with you, i have an 10 x 33 and i found him simply superb . Very steady for an 10x and fabulous resolution - contrast . Until this kowa the best resolution-contrast i saw in swarovski swarovision 8x32 ,zeiss fl 8x42 and swarovski habicht 8x30 . This Kowa have at least the same if not a little better sharp detail on the image . Maybe the last bino for me.
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Old Sunday 11th December 2016, 15:55   #4
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Great review, I really liked the Kowa 8.5x44 but found it a bit heavy. I've never gotten a chance to try the 8x33, as I worried about eye-relief limitations, but I imagine the actual view through it is "alpha-level," as the 8.5x was certainly on the level of the Swarovision and Zeiss Victory (didn't direct compare it to others).
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Old Sunday 11th December 2016, 16:07   #5
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WOW.... GREAT REVIEW!!!!!!!
Thanks CG it was a pleasure doing it.
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Old Sunday 11th December 2016, 16:09   #6
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Excellent reviews i totally agree with you, i have an 10 x 33 and i found him simply superb . Very steady for an 10x and fabulous resolution - contrast . Until this kowa the best resolution-contrast i saw in swarovski swarovision 8x32 ,zeiss fl 8x42 and swarovski habicht 8x30 . This Kowa have at least the same if not a little better sharp detail on the image . Maybe the last bino for me.
Thanks BM.
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Old Sunday 11th December 2016, 16:11   #7
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Great review, I really liked the Kowa 8.5x44 but found it a bit heavy. I've never gotten a chance to try the 8x33, as I worried about eye-relief limitations, but I imagine the actual view through it is "alpha-level," as the 8.5x was certainly on the level of the Swarovision and Zeiss Victory (didn't direct compare it to others).
Hi Justin

Nice to hear from you. This little beauty has got me wondering about the 8.5x44 too, and some people might like the heft of the 44mm as evidence of robust build quality just like they did with Leica BA and BN.

Lee

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Old Sunday 11th December 2016, 17:24   #8
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Nice review Lee.

The Genesis is one of those models I rarely see outside Birdfair but I love to remind myself how good it is when I get a chance. I do like the 8x33 and at the discounted prices we've seen recently, it's a pretty attractive option, but it's the x44s that do it for me. Good as they are, the little ones just don't match the big ones for CA control, effective resololution and perceived sharpness. Those are the one you need to try on the power line test. Just see how any Swaro or your beloved HT and SF compare if you get a chance.

Of course we've been waiting on a lighter version for years now. Three years ago one of the guys from Japan said it was being worked on. Surely it must be due soon?

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Old Sunday 11th December 2016, 18:03   #9
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Nice review Lee.

The Genesis is one of those models I rarely see outside Birdfair but I love to remind myself how good it is when I get a chance. I do like the 8x33 and at the discounted prices we've seen recently, it's a pretty attractive option, but it's the x44s that do it for me. Good as they are, the little ones just don't match the big ones for CA control, effective resololution and perceived sharpness. Those are the one you need to try on the power line test. Just see how any Swaro or your beloved HT and SF compare if you get a chance.

Of course we've been waiting on a lighter version for years now. Three years ago one of the guys from Japan said it was being worked on. Surely it must be due soon?

David

Thanks David, I might have to take your advice on this and try the 44s

Lee
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Old Sunday 11th December 2016, 21:27   #10
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Great review Lee! I love the practical, field-oriented jist of it as [I think] most of us test our optics in the same way.

Makes me wonder, however, how the Kowa scopes became so popular and prevalent yet I almost never see a Kowa binocular around anyone's neck.
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Old Sunday 11th December 2016, 21:40   #11
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Nice review Troubsey. I always wanted to look through one of these but never got the opportunity.
I like that it has a textured metal focus wheel. I always liked the metal focusers on the Minox HG's when
I tried those.
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Old Sunday 11th December 2016, 23:16   #12
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Lee ..... Another excellent review! Thanks!!

The Zeiss Conquest HD 8X32 is my benchmark for that class which I use to compare others. So, I appreciated your direct comparisons between the Conquest and the Kowa. I basically concluded that although there are optical differences, they are equivalent. It comes down to what attributes one wants to optimize between the two. For example, one who is bothered by CA should go with the Kowa. One looking for the best buy may be best to go with the Conquest.

I have never seen a Kowa binocular in a store over here and I do not recall seeing any in the field. They do seem to have a poor distribution network over here. There was also some discussion on getting one repaired, but for some reason, I was unable to find that thread when I looked for it a while back. I am inclined to stick with the major brands unless there is something compelling about a particular model.
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Old Monday 12th December 2016, 09:12   #13
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Great review Lee! I love the practical, field-oriented jist of it as [I think] most of us test our optics in the same way.

Makes me wonder, however, how the Kowa scopes became so popular and prevalent yet I almost never see a Kowa binocular around anyone's neck.
Thanks James. I am sure most folks who don't use bins think that they are all the same and just bring distant things closer, period. It is a constant source of fascination to me and I am sure to most on here too that different bins can have such different personalities in the field.

Lee
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Old Monday 12th December 2016, 09:14   #14
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Nice review Troubsey. I always wanted to look through one of these but never got the opportunity.
I like that it has a textured metal focus wheel. I always liked the metal focusers on the Minox HG's when
I tried those.
Its a small detail that adds a lot to the feel of the bins in the hand. The rough armour and knurled focus wheel of Kowa vs the smooth armour and ridged focus wheel of Conquest feel so different in the hand. They are both great bins.

Lee
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Old Monday 12th December 2016, 09:18   #15
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Lee ..... Another excellent review! Thanks!!

The Zeiss Conquest HD 8X32 is my benchmark for that class which I use to compare others. So, I appreciated your direct comparisons between the Conquest and the Kowa. I basically concluded that although there are optical differences, they are equivalent. It comes down to what attributes one wants to optimize between the two. For example, one who is bothered by CA should go with the Kowa. One looking for the best buy may be best to go with the Conquest.

I have never seen a Kowa binocular in a store over here and I do not recall seeing any in the field. They do seem to have a poor distribution network over here. There was also some discussion on getting one repaired, but for some reason, I was unable to find that thread when I looked for it a while back. I am inclined to stick with the major brands unless there is something compelling about a particular model.
Thanks Bruce. The Conquest and Kowa have quite different personalities and both have such a high standard of performance there is no wonder some folks say there is no need to stray beyond mid-price.

Lee
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Old Tuesday 3rd January 2017, 11:48   #16
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Re the price of the 8 x 33 Genesis: quite a few UK retailers have them around 400 down at present (Viking, Clifton Cameras, amongst others).

Indeed Clifton had an extra 10% off as well. Shame they only had one pair of the Kowas 400 off...They are mine! Sorry, chaps.
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Old Thursday 5th January 2017, 09:37   #17
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If I may make so bold as to piggy back on this thread, here are some initial thoughts on the Genesis 8 x 33, which arrived yesterday.

I went out around one of my usual local "circuits" which involves small, reed-fringed lakes, beach and sea, scrubby dunes and a bit of woodland. Light was variable, from a bit of full sun to 7-8/8 cloud cover with the sun heading rapidly down. Reasonable wind from the north, i.e. enough to buffet you and give a nasty nip of wind chill.

First off, these bins are magic! There are a couple of hen harriers over-wintering round here and I have for the last 2 months failed to spot either and yet within 10 minutes of setting off I saw a ring-tail doing a marsh harrier impression over a reed bed and was able to observe it for around another 10 minutes. Magic, I tell you.

Seriously though...My points of comparison are that I have played with various Zeiss and Swarovskis at things like In-Focus displays and found them very clear and bright, superior to what I normally use (a couple of compact Deltas and Opticrons, but mainly Peyser SGI 10.5 x 44, which should have been a 300-350 bin), but made me come over all "diminishing returns" whenever I looked at the price ticket or making me think I could put the money towards a better pair of loudspeakers...

So, much clearer and brighter than the trusty Peysers, enabling me to pick out more detail on the feathers of the ring-tail (for reference I had a very good look at a ring-tail at comparable distances in better light at Insh Marshes in September) than I am accustomed to. This was even clearer a couple of hours later in even lower light when looking at a group of redshanks in a field, allowing me to distinguish the markings of individuals more than usual.

Re the rolling ball comments: I seem not to be particularly sensitive to this, but I had absolutely no problem tracking some very twinkle-toed sanderling along the edge of the sea, being able to distinguish pretty much every foot movement. Ditto tracking a fast moving group of wigeon.

In the woody areas, with light deteriorating to the point that I would usually give up, I was well able to track a group of a dozen long-tailed tits, 3 or 4 goldcrests and a treecreeper as the former barreled through close packed alder and willow branches. The depth of focus was easily good enough for me to follow movement deeper into the trees without adjusting focus. And the detail was such that it was far easier than usual (bear in mind what I said about light conditions) to pick out the treecreeper amongst a maze of branches.

Being much lighter than my 10.5s I was able to stand in the wind and continue watching waders on the beach with no discernible shaking, unlike normal.

The Kowas also feel comfortable in my hands, the focus knob is smooth and firm in action and usable through 2 pairs of gloves (wind chill!); I like the locking dioptre ring also. They have some of that indefinable "good product" feel you get from well-designed and made kit, which is nice...

For the money I paid (mumble...internet discount vouchers...mumble...distributor's promotions...mumble... retailer's promotions...mumble...) these are a no-brainer, made even more so by some judicious application of Man Maths: I was already looking to spend 100-150 on a pair of compacts, most likely Opticron or Viking, but spotted these on the just ended promotion, thought "Well, I have just saved around 150 by changing Thing A to Thing B, I'm going to save another 40 by cancelling that magazine subscription, so I'm pretty much at the price of the Kowas...Then there is some interest due on that savings account...". Full price? Well, they would still be excellent bins and still cheaper than the European big boys...You decide...

For me they are small enough to fit in a pocket, which is what I was after for those "Do I want to cart bins around in this weather?" days, and yet offer more usability than my old 10.5s. The 10.5s are staying, but are likely to be saved for days spent lurking in hides.

Well worth checking out I would say, especially on what appear to be pretty regular distributor promotions and definitely so if you can wangle some other promotional discounts...
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Old Thursday 5th January 2017, 15:00   #18
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Nice contribution Murmur. These are very likeable bins aren't they? Did you find the focus wheel stiffened up in the cold? The temperatures recently down here in Sheffield have been cold enough for this, it was minus 0.5C this morning.

The lack of shake is probably more down to the 8x mag versus the 10.5x rather than weight saving.

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Old Thursday 5th January 2017, 16:03   #19
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Not sure about temperature and the focus wheel: it was colder when out today (around 0 Centigrade as opposed to 4, but with next to no wind chill) and the wheel felt a bit free-er...

They are still magic though, as that ring-tail appeared again and the bunch of crossbills that have been avoiding me for weeks put in a very showy appearance.
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Old Thursday 5th January 2017, 16:10   #20
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So is the Zeiss FL $600 better than this Kowa?
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Old Thursday 5th January 2017, 17:01   #21
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So is the Zeiss FL $600 better than this Kowa?
This is a personal decision about how much to spend JG.

I haven't seen transmission figures for the Kowa 33 but the 44 is about 6-7% behind the Zeiss Conquest, so if the 33 is similar then an FL might be worth the extra if transmission is really important to you.

But there is more than transmission to choosing bin and the Kowa (and Meopta 8x32 that I have also tested) make convincing cases for themselves.

If I was to say what could be improved on the Kowa it would be that the focus wheel could turn a bit more freely and could be a bit larger in diameter for better control, and yes, a bit more brightness wouldn't go amiss.

But Kowa, Meopta and the Zeisses are all worth every cent: you pays your money and makes your choice

Lee

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Old Thursday 5th January 2017, 17:17   #22
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Thanks. Great review BTW. I've always been a big fan of Kowa.
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Old Thursday 5th January 2017, 20:15   #23
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So is the Zeiss FL $600 better than this Kowa?
I have owned the 8.5x44 Kowa and currently own the 8x32 FL (and have owned the 7x42 as well).

I would personally say that the view is not $600 better; however, the focus and the eye-relief are superior to the Kowa, and it is indeed brighter early and late. I actually used the 8x32 FL for deer hunting this year and it performed great even in the low light conditions. I am not sure the 8x33 Kowa would be as pleasing in such conditions.
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Old Thursday 5th January 2017, 20:48   #24
jgraider
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Is the eye relief adequate on the 8x32 FL?
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Old Thursday 5th January 2017, 22:15   #25
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No to go too far off-topic and make this about the FL, but yes, the 8x32 FL has quite good eye-relief, the best I've found in a 32mm including the SV EL with its claimed 20mm of eye-relief.
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